I looked up from paddling and saw Hugo about a quarter kilometer away from where our boat was, reaching from the bow of his canoe for the branch of a tree whose roots were partially on land and partially in the water. Him and our counsellor Dylan waited there by the shore with their paddles lying on their laps. I felt Malcolm turn the canoe so that we were going towards them, and I looked back at the other canoes in our group still in the middle of the river. When we got close Malcolm told me to stop paddling, and he brought us in sideways so the edges of our boats met. I took hold of their gunnel and Malcolm did the same.
I tilted the food barrel so it opened upwards and Malcolm held it against the other one so it wouldn’t tip. I unfastened the lid and put it beside me, and reached into the barrel and felt past the moist bags until I found the pitas and put them behind me on the floor of the canoe. The other boats came up beside us like we had. I put the lid for the barrel on my lap and Dylan handed me his knife, and I took out one pita at a time and spread cream cheese on half and jam on the other, and the whole time all the other boys watched me and told me if I wasn’t spreading enough, or if I had given one too much, and when I was done with a slice I passed it back behind me and Malcolm passed it on amongst the others.
I made one for each boy and reached into the bag to make one for myself. The fourth and final boat with Ingrid and the other counsellor Vince came up beside us and Vince brought the canoe around the back so he could talk to Dylan. Ingrid stopped and put her paddle between her legs so that the wide end was sticking up in the air pushing the boat forward with the wind. I handed the finished pita back so that it would go to Ingrid, but Malcolm gave it to Vince instead. I made two more, one for Ingrid and one for myself, and soon when I was done we sat and everyone stuck their paddles up in the wind so we’d blow forward without having to paddle.
Ingrid was the first to break off from the group. She put her paddle in the water and pushed it backward, away from the shore, then she turned the boat so it was facing the right way and went on down the river. The rest of us tried to push off each other, holding the gunnels so that the others would get left behind and we’d gain their momentum.
We got to the campsite by nightfall and had everything put away and a fire going before it started to get dark. We sat around in a circle and one of the boys tended to the fire and one of them cooked and everyone watched the pot and Dylan and Vince didn’t do much but flick at mosquitoes.
“Ingrid, did you go to Bowmore in middle school?” asked Hugo.
“Do you know Roger?”
“I knew of him.”
“Roger is one of my best friends.”
The boy at the fire portioned the food out into bowls, and we each took a spoon and a bowl and ate and sat around the fire. When we were done everyone took up tasks, putting out the fire or putting the barrels and packs underneath the canoes or spreading out their sleeping bags and brushing their teeth, and I saw Malcolm go off with Ingrid to one side of the beach and he helped her put a pack underneath the canoe and when they came back they were talking.
In the morning we took down the tents, and we stood on the beach with the canoes in the water and Malcolm sat on the end of one to designate it as his, and Vince and Dylan each took one of their own, and Ingrid got in the front of Malcolm’s canoe and I said I would ride in the middle again. Ingrid got in and Malcolm got ready to push off and I sat on the tent pack with my legs up so they were almost touching Ingrid’s back and Malcolm pushed us off and we paddled out from the small bay that we had camped in back into the main river.
We got to the campsite in the afternoon and me and some of the other boys stripped down to our underwear and went swimming in the water, and Dylan and Vince made us wear our shoes, and when we were done we sat on the rocks or on the dirt that was covered in pine needles and let the sun dry us off, and Ingrid stayed back and afterwards I saw her reading a book by one of the tents. I combed my fingers through my wet hair then messed it up a bit and walked by Ingrid.
“What are you reading?” I asked.
“A book,” she said.
I went back to my tent. When I got out Ingrid wasn’t where she had been before, and she wasn’t at the fireplace but I sat down with the other boys. She came out from one side of the woods with her book in hand, and she sat down near me and put one of her hands underneath her chin so it looked like she had an under-bite, and she looked at the fire and only looked up when Vince said something. Vince told jokes and Ingrid laughed and looked at him then back at the fire. More of the boys came and sat around the fire, and at one point Vince got up to leave and Malcolm came out of the tent and sat beside Ingrid and I looked at the spine of her book and tried to read the title from the light of the fire and the receding sun.
“I used to go fishing a lot with my dad,” said Malcolm.
“So you know how to?” asked Ingrid.
“I know a few things.”
“Ingrid, what are you reading?” I asked.
“Jane Eyre?” asked Malcolm.
“Did you ever read Wuthering Heights?” asked Malcolm.
“I don’t think it’s as good,” she said.
Malcolm and Ingrid went on about Jane Eyre and I didn’t listen. Dylan got out the pot and filled it with water and put it overtop the fire to start cooking dinner.
“Ingrid, how do you feel being the only girl here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you like being around boys?”
“I feel like boys are easier to get along with.”
“I don’t like boys.”
“I read Wuthering Heights when I was younger and I thought it was good until I read Jane Eyre,” said Malcolm.
“Have you ever read Jane Eyre?” she asked me.
“I haven’t heard of it.”
We sat in front of the fire and Vince came back and made more jokes and we ate dinner when the fire died down we didn’t put more logs on and Vince and Dylan went to bed and everyone else went after them.
* * *
I sat upright in the tent and kissed her and she kissed me and she was wearing her pyjamas and we were alone in the tent and Vince and Dylan were asleep and so was everyone else and she had turned her flashlight off and so there was only the moonlight from the lake and we kissed and I didn’t know when we were going to stop kissing or what we would say to each other when we were done and she put her hand on my leg and I put my hand on her shoulder and we kept kissing. It was hot in her one-person tent, just for her. I thought I could stay in there if not for the heat and the coming morning.
* * *
Thomas Wattie: born in toronto. raised in toronto. lives in toronto. may or may not have plagiarized this story.